Air conditioning the outdoors?
July 3, 2008 6:09 PM   Subscribe

Are gas station forecourts really air conditioned in some places in the USA?

I have heard environmentalists use as an example of profligate waste the idea that some US gas station have the area out front where the pumps are air conditioned. Effectively cooling the outdoors.
Is this true? Anyone got a photo/link/citation?
posted by bystander to Society & Culture (37 answers total)
I have never heard of such a thing. And except for three glorious months, I've spent my whole life in the US.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 6:16 PM on July 3, 2008

I have never seen such a thing or heard of it. My point of reference is living in Los Angeles for 40 years.
posted by Argyle at 6:17 PM on July 3, 2008

In my experience, no. The closest thing I've seen to that is that some retail stores in the Southwest and southern California leave their doors open all the time, but also have air conditioning on.
posted by rkent at 6:18 PM on July 3, 2008

I can't speak on the air-conditioned gas station issue, but on the flip side, here in Chicago we have electrically heated open air shelters at some train stops during the winter. This seems to be almost as much of an exercise in futility as air-conditioned gas pumps.
posted by ISeemToBeAVerb at 6:19 PM on July 3, 2008

I have never experienced this; however, many stores run the air conditioning full-blast and leave the front doors wide open.
posted by kate blank at 6:19 PM on July 3, 2008

Never heard of this. But I suppose it wouldn't surprise me if it were true. It would have to be some ridiculous rich area.
posted by Askr at 6:22 PM on July 3, 2008

"I can't speak on the air-conditioned gas station issue, but on the flip side, here in Chicago we have electrically heated open air shelters at some train stops during the winter. This seems to be almost as much of an exercise in futility as air-conditioned gas pumps."

You have waited for a train at Belmont for 30 minutes in -10 windchill, right? Those things are on 3 minute timers too, so I don't think it nearly equates to leaving doors of Wal-Mart open in the summer.
posted by rabbitsnake at 6:31 PM on July 3, 2008 [4 favorites]

I've lived in or near the South for most of my life. Never seen a gas station do that, and I suspect I never will - they make too slim a margin to go wasting it on AC for all the great outdoors.
posted by mikewas at 6:33 PM on July 3, 2008

In Vegas the High Rollers have air-conditioning ON THEIR OUTDOOR PATIOS.
Even though it is an easy 110 degrees in the shade, next to Bubbles' trainer sits gallons of Rum Raisin ice cream, frosty and solid.
What a world.
posted by Dizzy at 6:45 PM on July 3, 2008

If the heating in those open air shelters is radiant heating, as opposed to air heating, then it actually can make people a lot warmer without wasting enormous amounts of energy.

It's a shame there's no feasible radiant cooling technology :-)
posted by flabdablet at 6:47 PM on July 3, 2008

Never seen nor heard of it in all my travels. If it is even true, it's not at all common and certainly not epidemic.

But I'm really glad to have learned the word "forecourts."
posted by Miko at 6:52 PM on July 3, 2008 [3 favorites]

Nope. Not in Texas where I live, nor in Florida where I've spent the last three weeks.
posted by Doohickie at 6:55 PM on July 3, 2008


Yeah, I've waited my fair share. I forgot they had timers on them, so I guess that helps matters. I still think it must be an enormous waste of energy though, regardless of the timer issue. I guess I just figure that if I can wait 30 minutes at any of the hundreds of non-heated bus and train stops around the city, why bother?
posted by ISeemToBeAVerb at 7:00 PM on July 3, 2008

Outdoor heaters I've seen (though not at gas stations). Outdoor air conditioners, though? Never heard of it.

Gasoline, on the other hand, comes out of the tanks cold, and the metal parts on a gas pump can get pretty damned chilly. I wonder if that's what has them mixed up?
posted by jacquilynne at 7:10 PM on July 3, 2008

Never heard of it; lived in L.A. for 20 years, have visited much of the Southwest. But the casinos in Vegas do leave their front doors open (and in some cases, don't even have doors).
posted by equalpants at 7:16 PM on July 3, 2008

I've been to places, including gas stations, in the hardcore desert areas of CA (Palm Desert, Palm Springs) that spray a light mist of cold water in the air from above. Not sure if it's psychosomatic, but it seems to cool the air.
posted by sharkfu at 7:18 PM on July 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Dizzy: wow, that's awesome. Oops, I mean ... Las Vegas is a terrible affront to those of us who are the slightest bit interested in conservation, the environment, and anything that is crunchy or green. The fact that they have sights like the fountain at the Bellagio, or that they have any water there at all, when I'm a stone's throw from Lake Michigan and have sprinkling restrictions, for god's sake, is outlandish. (But boy do I love Vegas. Precisely because it's fantasy land.)

Anyway. Never heard of air conditioned gas stations. And yes, the heaters on the train platforms are absolute life savers and there's nothing wrong with them. It sure would be nice to have some of those at gas stations in the winter.
posted by iguanapolitico at 7:19 PM on July 3, 2008

When I was in Vegas (and I think I've seen it elsewhere, too) a lot of restaurants had outdoor seating areas with sprinklers that sprayed a verrrry fine mist of water. Sitting at your table, you wouldn't get wet, but the air was nice and cool. Maybe by evaporative cooling? Whatever it was, it was very effective. So, yeah, I would call that a kind of outdoor air conditioning?

How terrible it is, I don't know. Seemed like it used very little water. Still...on all day...
posted by The Dutchman at 7:29 PM on July 3, 2008

El Corte Ingles in Barcelona at Plaza Catalunya didn't seem to have doors at all, and they'd heat or cool the outdoors depending on what season it was. (At night they had one of those pull-down metal garage-door looking thingies)

I've not ever seen any US gas station cooling the outdoors, though.
posted by Stewriffic at 7:32 PM on July 3, 2008

Mod note: a few comments removed - metatalk is open for business
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:43 PM on July 3, 2008

Ignoring train station heaters, and focusing on the question at hand: I've been in every state south of the Mason-Dixon Line and most of the northern states, and have never once seen a cooled-exterior gas station. I have seen the misting devices in Palm Springs and Vegas restaurants; they sorta work, but I can't say I was impressed -- but then, I'm fond of freezing blasts of air. Walk-in deep freezers are my friends.

There might be possibly be a single gas station somewhere that uses the misters, but I'd be surprised. For one, every time I've experienced one of those misting things, it was in a shady enclosed patio or courtyard -- I'd expect a gas station would be too susceptible to breezes.
posted by aramaic at 7:53 PM on July 3, 2008

That sounds utterly crazy to me. Do you have a citation of anyone actually making this claim?
posted by mkultra at 8:00 PM on July 3, 2008

As sharkfu mentioned, misting systems are used for cooling outdoor areas here in the desert where real temps can reach over 120 degrees fahrenheit during the summer.

Many indoor areas in the desert are cooled with swamp coolers instead of refrigeration. Using a swamp cooler requires open doors and/or windows in order to achieve the air flow necessary for efficient operation. It was near 115 degrees at my house today and we had every door and window in the house wide open for maximum cooling and air exchange.
posted by buggzzee23 at 8:20 PM on July 3, 2008

Those little water misters do work by evaporative cooling. This will only work in areas with low humidity. The water mister types don´t use electricity, just water (although the water company may use some additional electricity to move this water through their system).

I doubt a gas station would use them, it seems like there would be the potential for getting small water spots on customer´s cars. I´ve never seen any in New Mexico, but it only gets into the 100´s here. Besides, if a gas station really wanted to seem luxurious, the top luxury would be to have someone else pumping your gas for you.
posted by yohko at 8:35 PM on July 3, 2008

Response by poster: I haven't got a citation of the claim. It sits in the same box in my head as James Howard Kunstler, but I suspect it was a comment to a blog post or similar.
Somebody mentioned it in conversation the other day, much like Dizzy's comment above, prompting me to see if it was true.
Google gave me no luck, but it is hard to search for, and I thought I might have the terms wrong (e.g. petrol station forecourt is how I would describe what I am talking about, but clearly that's not what a North American would call it).
Thanks all for the debunking replies. It looks like it is one of those "only in America" non-facts that pop up now and again.
I once saw a sub-editor describe a similarly implausible story as "too good to fact check".
posted by bystander at 8:48 PM on July 3, 2008

I've never seen an air-conditioned gas station forecourt, but I have seen several serviced by evaporative coolers. These look and sound a lot like air conditioners, but don't use as much energy (only enough to run a water pump and a fan) and don't cool the air as well. They also aren't meant to operate on a closed loop. More often I've seen them used in open-stall mechanics' bays to move the air through the building.

However, yes, another front-door-open to air-conditioned inside ridiculosity happens around malls with outdoor promenades.
posted by carsonb at 10:14 PM on July 3, 2008

here in Chicago we have electrically heated open air shelters at some train stops during the winter. This seems to be almost as much of an exercise in futility as air-conditioned gas pumps."

Those radiant heaters work on two levels; first, they do provide at least some heat (and believe me, on the coldest days it makes a big difference) and people tend to cluster underneath them, so you get the additional body warmth.
posted by davejay at 11:04 PM on July 3, 2008

I haven't seen any such gas stations on all my trips through various southern states but I am reasonably sure that the landing at the Venetian Casino in Vegas (you know, the massive awning where all the limos pull up) is air conditioned. it was markedly cooler there than further outside.
posted by krautland at 2:59 AM on July 4, 2008

I have lived in some of the hottest places in the US and never have seen a gas station with an outdoor AC system. And usually gas stations are about the last place you'd see where they would leave the doors open to let the AC inside the building escape. As said above, gas station profit margins are razor thin so it is not unusual for the AC to be set to a higher setting than the arctic cold settings you encounter in some buildings in the US in summer. There are many, many egregious examples of Americans wasting electricity and/or water, but the local gas station is not one of them.

Misters are common in bars and restaurants in the desert with outdoor seating. The fine mist of water evaporates almost instantly. It makes a 115f day seem like a pleasant 108f day. It only works where the humidity is very low. If tried in Texas or Florida, it would just make people wet. Misters in the summer and the small heaters near the tables in the winter make dining outside possible all year.

Many of the casinos in LV that don't have front doors have an area forcing down air just at the door that keeps the colder air in and the hotter air outside. I've seen this at larger department stores and grocery stores as well. Of course, it is not as effective as having a physical door. The idea isn't to cool the outside but to not have a door. When you walk through these doors there s a foot or so of relatively warm air blowing down from above until you reach the cool air inside.

For all I know the newer places in Las Vegas do put AC on their porte-cochere, but more likely they are employing a lot of fans keeping the air circulating with use of evaporative cooling technology. Sort of like a heat pump, but in reverse.

This is different than the stores at the outdoor malls keeping their doors open in the summertime. In these places, there is no air being forced down to keep the cold air in and the hot air out. These places are just letting the AC escape outside just so the customer doesn't need to open the door to come inside the shop and to seem "more inviting". The staff at these stores doesn't seem to mind since they aren't seeing the utility bill and because the AC is running the whole time, deep inside the store it is colder than in a meat locker so letting hot air in keeps them from freezing to death. Of coarse, shutting the doors would fix the problem of the AC overcooling. These places will tend to have standard AC and not the fans over the doorway used to create an air barrier.
posted by birdherder at 5:14 AM on July 4, 2008

At some of the Border Patrol checkpoints north of the US/Mexico border (not the actual border crossing, the secondary checkpoints they set up about 15-20 miles north) in the desert they set up a great big generator-powered cooler to blow cold air onto the agents who are working outdoors in the heat all day. I never asked what the technology was, but I'd guess it's a big swamp cooler, although I could be wrong.

I've seen similar units set up in a few other outdoor locations to blow cool air on a particular spot. And I've eaten at a couple of restaurants in the southwest that had cool air blowing across the patios -- though again, probably from swamp coolers rather than regular AC.

I've never encountered this at a gas station, though I could certainly imagine someone (at a time when gas station profit margins were higher) doing this as a promotional endeavor -- "Pump your gas in air conditioned splendor at Jimmy's Gas And Go!" -- but not something that would make sense today given how slim those profit margins are said to be.
posted by Forktine at 5:55 AM on July 4, 2008

Nthing the fact that it doesn't happen in Vegas. We just stand around in the 110 degree heat, pumping gas, and waiting for the cloud of atomized gasoline to spontaneously ignite.

I do see a lot of misters in places tourists frequent. A pretty good waste of water, but probably less so than the bazillions of lawns. This entire valley is generally an affront to the existence of nature. But even we aren't stupid enough to try to cool the gas pumps.
posted by krisak at 6:42 AM on July 4, 2008

I live in Arizona, where it once reached 123 freaking degrees and no such thing exists.
posted by mattholomew at 8:33 AM on July 4, 2008

Friends of ours stayed at a Las Vegas hotel a few years ago (can't remember which one- Bellagio?) and the pool had outdoor AC.
posted by Zambrano at 9:26 AM on July 4, 2008

There's definitely no such thing in Texas, because if there was one it'd be in the greater Dallas area. And I would use it when I needed gas in July and August (5am is the optimal time to fill up, otherwise you sweat up your work clothes and your makeup and hair product melts).

Our restaurant patios do have misters, though. It gets plenty dry for them here.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:57 AM on July 4, 2008

One place I *do* know that they A/C the outdoors in is Disney Land in CA and DisneyWorld in FL. They often have jets of cool air blowing on people in lines. Both areas are usually too humid for swamp coolers.
posted by SpecialK at 11:18 AM on July 4, 2008

No. It's ridiculous on the face of it. You can't air condition the outside.
posted by gjc at 7:52 PM on July 4, 2008

The Astrodome's theme park, Astroworld was famous for being outdoor air conditioned, though I think they gave up on the system at some point in the park's life.
posted by YoungAmerican at 10:08 AM on July 6, 2008

« Older make like a tree....   |   Picklers of the world unite! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.